Tag Archives: Unterseen

Unterseen IV: Do you dig with a trowel or gräbst Du mit einer Kelle?

It was almost a rite of passage. Sometime during the first year of my archaeology degree in the UK, we were told to get a trowel. It all sounded quite mysterious to a young foreign student: a WHS 3 or 4 inch pointing trowel. I barely knew how many cm an inch was. So, I went to the small hardware store in the village near the halls of residence where I lived and bought a 4 inch WHS trowel. I remember thinking it was really rather small but it felt great in my hand. I was quite proud, it felt like the beginning of something. And now, more than a decade later it still lies snugly in my hand.

Kellen/Trowels at Unterseen-Untere Grabe

A selection of trowels at the Unterseen/Kreuzgasse-Untere Grabe excavation.

I have moved on now and have worked a lot in the Netherlands and in Switzerland. For many archaeologists in the English-speaking world their trowel is the symbol of their professional pride. It was thus a surprise when starting to work in the Netherlands, that there were hardly, sometimes even no trowels at all on site!
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Unterseen III: Day of archaeology – a day in Swiss rescue archaeology

A bit late, but here it is, my contribution to the Day of Archaeology! Over 700 archaeologists worldwide show us how diverse our archaeological days are. It is also well worth to have a look at some of the many other entries.

A fantastic achievement of the organisers!

Photograhpy – First adventures with an Agfa Synchro Box

My first camera was red with a big separate flash, 35mm of course. As an archaeologist I have used a large array of cameras over the years. They range from normal analogue 35mm SLRs and very early digital cameras (I hardly dare to think about the quality of those photographs!) to high-end DSLR’s. On the site I’m working now we even use a  120mm film Hasselblad!

Most archaeologists seem to have some affinity with photography. And I guess that is true of me as well. It was thus fun to find this AGFA Synchro Box (produced from 1951-1957) in a box in my parent’s house. It must be the very camera with which those little childhood photographs of my Father and his family were made.

So, we cleaned it and we tried a film. It is truly amazing how simple these boxes are! The camera takes a bit of getting used to, though. It is quite tricky to use the viewfinder and determine what will actually be on the photo. Photos 1 & 2 are the results of that first film. The rest come from the second attempt.

Not very happy with the processing of Photos 1 & 2: Ilford Delta 400 Pro, b & w processing, the format of the prints is wrong (lost some at the short sides) and colour printing. Photos 3, 4 & 5 are better (Ilford FP4 plus, b & w processing and printing) even though they are just contact prints. (I then scanned all of them to be able to post them here.)

There is a colour film in the Synchro Box now and I am curious to see the results of that.

Unterseen II: the archaeology of a 19th Century road surface – Strassenarchäologie des 19. Jh.s

English text below.

Manchmal bleibt es bis lange nach der Ausgrabung noch ungewiss was Du ausgegraben hast, manchmal ist es sofort klar. Dies war letzte Woche der Fall. Auf der Ausgrabung in Unterseen legten wir zwei alte Strassenpflästerungen frei.

Neben der Stadthauslaube, direkt unter dem heutigen Strassenpflaster dokumentierten wir einen letzten Rest einer Pflästerung, die aus in Mörtel gesetzten Flusskiesel bestand. Das zweite Stück eines Kopfsteinpflasters dürfte älter sein, wurde aber direkt unter dem modernen Teerbelag gefunden. Auf seiner Unterseite waren selbst die Abdrücke der Steine sichtbar.

Vielen Passanten fiel die gut verständliche und wunderschön erhaltene Pflästerung auf und weckte ihr Interesse, sogar mehr als die daneben liegenden mittelalterlichen Mauern. Vielleicht auch weil ihre Urgrosseltern noch darauf spaziert sind?

Zwei Reihen aus grossen Quadersteinen, die tief in die darunterliegende ältere Oberfläche einer Naturstrasse gesetzt worden waren, begrenzen einen ca. 1 m breiten Streifen Flusskiesel. Die etwas grösser als faustgrossen Steine waren nur in lockere Sand gesetzt worden, bilden aber trotzdem eine bemerkenswert feste Oberfläche. Regula Glatz wertet im Moment ältere Grabungen des ADB in Unterseen aus. Sie wies mich auf ein Büchlein hin, in dem ich dieses Bild von 1819 fand. Es zeigt nicht nur das Stadthaus kurz nach der Umbau von 1818, sondern auch eine Bollensteinpflästerung in der Unteren Gasse: vier schmale und ein breiteren Streifen Pflästerung, die durch Quadersteinreihen voneinander getrennt waren.

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Sometimes you do not know what you are excavating until long after you are finished on site. Sometimes, however, you know it all too well. This was the case a few weeks back on our Unterseen excavation when we uncovered an old street surface. It was the second bit we found.

We discovered a first section directly below the present road surface against the old Stadthaus (town hall). A small area covered with river pebbles set on their sides in mortar. The second, probably older, section was also found directly underneath the modern surface. Its stones’ impression in the bottom of the tar covering them.

Many passers-by commented on it. The beautifully preserved street on which some of their great grandparents might have walked still was instantly recognisable as such and grabbed people’s attention. Even more so than the walls in other parts of the excavation.

Two rows of stones set deep into the compacted, older road surface below frame a ca. 1 m wide stretch of pebbles. Although these slightly larger than fist sized pebbles were only set in loose sand, they formed an incredibly stable road surface. Regula Glatz is doing post-excavation work on earlier excavations in Unterseen. She showed me a booklet with paintings and etchings of Unterseen, mostly dating to the 18th and 19th C. And yes, the one depicted here shows the Stadthaus, just after its 1819 renovation with a pebbled road surface in front of it. Four narrow and one wider stretches of pebbles, separated by rows of large rectangular stones.

Unterseen I – temps de repos

Lunch break at the excavation in Unterseen. Archaeological Service Canton Berne, Switzerland)

Lunch break at the excavation. Archaeological rescue excavation of medieval building remains in the small city of Unterseen by the Archäologische Dienst des Kt. Bern (Archaeological Service of the Canton Berne, Switzerland)

The Middle Ages and the Middle Stone Age – rock crystal tools and stone walls

At some excavations you do not really know what you are finding until you are done in the field and in a warm and cosy office again. Rescue excavations of Mesolithic sites can be like that. There might not be much stratigraphy and resources in the way of time and money are sparse. One digs out 50x50x5cm squares and the spoil gets wet sieved for finds and botanic remains.

The excavation of Hospental-Moos was a bit like that. The Urseren valley, between Andermatt and Hospental in Central Switzerland, is being re-landscaped into a holiday resort and golf course. The valley floor – ca. 1500 masl – lies at the crossroads to the Furka, Gotthard and Oberalp-passes and has long been an important valley on routes connecting various parts of the Alps. I already briefly wrote about the 2010 building brief and the partial excavation of a Late Mesolithic site (Hospental-Moos). Now it looks like we will be able to analyse and hopefully publish the results of the fieldwork as well.

Most post-excavation work will flow into the metal finds and the excavated Mesolithic site. Last Friday, I met my colleague in Zug to have a first viewing of the finds, in order to organise the post-excavation work. A large part of the affected landscape was searched with metal-detectors. The metal finds seem to spread chronologically across at least two millennia and a first look the finds-map shows how widely these are spread across the valley floor. At the same time, already now some patterns seem to be discernible. These finds will need to be stabilised and at least those that will need to be included in more detailed post-ex work will need further conservation.

The Mesolithic finds seem to date to Late Mesolithic (around 6000 cal BC). I already expected it, but it was only when I had finished a first artefact count, I truly realised what a fantastic site it is! Due to considerable time pressure, we did not do much on-site analyses and some of the excavated earth was only screened in the lab, after the actual excavation had long been finished. So, to some extend we really did not know what we were finding. The artefacts are almost exclusively made from rock crystal. It is a beautiful material, but from the point of view of a lithics analyst, they take some getting used to. They come almost exclusively from the excavated site. Only a few were found at various locations across the landscape.

So, I am very much looking forwards to the post-ex! For most of us involved, this is a bit of a side project, so it will draw itself over the rest of the year. I will write more when we really get going. At the moment I am excavating part of the Medieval and Early Modern remains of a small city in the south of the Canton of Bern. Very different! I will write more about that soon. You are also welcome to follow my Twitter feed: look for #Unterseen.